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A (Seldom) Flying, Stalking, Creeping, Walking, (Once) Living Pterosaur

After the dinosaur-themed excitement from two weeks ago in PLoS ONE, it is great to return to the late Triassic Period this week to highlight some of the news coverage of a paper published by Mark Witton and Darren Naish, A Reappraisal of Azhdarchid Pterosaur Functional Morphology and Paleoecology. Pterosaur literally means “winged lizard”, while azhdarchid takes its name from a mythological, Uzbek dragon; however, on comparing some azhdarchid fossils with the closest modern analogues – ground-hornbills and storks – the researchers found that azhdarchids are actually highly adapted for terrestrial life and are more likely to be found foraging in diverse environments for small animals and carrion than swooping down on unsuspecting prey from above.

The article generated a lot of buzz in the press and in the blogosphere (including on Naish’s own blog: Terrestrial stalking azhdarchids, the paper), with many of the stories and posts featuring some of Witton’s fabulous illustrations (see Figure 8, for instance, or see his FlickR set for more examples). Here is a round-up of some of the coverage:

News
Scientific American – News Bytes of the Week: Flying dinosaur preferred to hoof it while hunting
New Scientist – Giant pterosaurs stalked baby dinos 'like storks'

National Geographic – Giant Flyers Hunted Dinos on Foot

Live Science – Huge Flying Reptiles Ate Dinosaurs

The Guardian – Fossil prints reveal giant winged reptile was a stalker

The Times Online – Dinosaur experts bring the myth of the pterosaur back down to earth

Blogs
The Great Beyond (Nature News Blog) – Giant flying reptile not much of a flyer
Greg Laden’s blog – Reconsidering the Reconstruction of the Pterosaur

Afarensis – Azhdarchid Fossil Distribution and Taphonomy

Azhdarchid Paleobiology – Azhdarchid Paleobiology, part III

Palaeoblog – Giant Flying Reptiles Preferred To Walk

Another of last week’s articles that created a lot of interest was Jørgen Dissing’s paper, Evidence of Authentic DNA from Danish Viking Age Skeletons Untouched by Humans for 1,000 Years, in which he and his Danish colleagues reported the extraction of authentic DNA from ancient Viking skeletons, avoiding many of the problems of contamination faced by past researchers. Using freshly sampled material from ten Viking skeletons from around AD 1,000, from a non-Christian burial site on the Danish island of Funen, Dissing and colleagues showed that it is indeed possible to retrieve authentic DNA from ancient humans. The paper was Slashdotted and subsequently received several thousand hits within the space of a couple of days. Some of the other coverage (including an article in the Spanish El Mundo, se habla Español) is listed below:

Live Science – DNA Retrieved from 1000-year-old Vikings
Wired – Researchers Recover Thousand-Year-Old Viking DNA

Newsweek – Bring Back the Vikings: Ancient DNA

Discover Magazine – Hide the Women and Children! Researchers Dig up Viking DNA

Scientist Live, UK – Authentic Viking DNA

Huffington Post – Viking DNA Recovered From Ten 1,000-Year-Old Skeletons: Report

Anthropology.net – Recovering 1,000 Year Old Viking mtDNA

Finally, another paper of note from among the 49 published on May 28th is Brian Fisher and Alex Smith’s A Revision of Malagasy Species of Anochetus Mayr and Odontomachus Latreille (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), PLoS ONE’s first taxonomy paper. The article is a case study involving 1,700 ant specimens from Madagascar demonstrates how a combination of DNA barcoding, traditional morphology, and Web-based tools can help scientists quickly and accurately process large groups of specimens and make the results immediately available so that other researchers can readily incorporate the results into their work. Here are some of the blog posts about the article:

Myrmecos Blog – Fisher and Smith break the PLoS taxonomy barrier
The Other 95% – Ants, DNA Barcoding and Open Access

Deep Sea News – PLoS ONE Get Its "Taxonomy Barrier" Broken
Open Access News – The importance of OA for taxonomy research

Hardin Scholarly Communication News – The Importance of Open Access for Taxonomy Research

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